Monday, December 15th, 2014
This is getting ridiculous. My 8-year-old daughter Madelyn is starting to make requests of our Elf, Max, that I’m starting to think go beyond the call of Elf Duty. It first began, right after his arrival at Thanksgiving with her leaving notes next to where he was perched. Things like, When is your birthday? What is your favorite color? What is your favorite snack? Max obliged with these questions because it was cute, and he was sort of in awe that she still believed in him. But his replies only sparked more questions. And not just from Madelyn. The neighborhood kids came over to see Max’s responses and started asking about their Elves: Why is Elfie-Belfie not at Ava’s house yet? Are you friends with Bob the Elf? Why didn’t Bob move last night?
Max replied with an assortment of cleverly-thought out answers. You better be careful, my husband warned, The neighbor parents aren’t going to like being out-shined by Max. So Max replied in his Elf scrawl: Elfie-Belfie was held up in traffic; Bob has been working at overtime at the toy shop and was too tired to move….
Of course, that just made it worse and the next night Madelyn left this (see pic): Max was in over his head. What the heck could he put in that bag? How old is an Elf anyway? But more importantly, how can we keep the spirit of the Elf alive without making this a nightly scavenger hunt. (This is interfering with my binge-watching of The Affair!)
I posted this pic on Facebook and some friends offered advice: Just say Max is too tired to fill the bag; don’t answer all the questions, just some, say he loves friendship and kisses, etc. But then other friends revealed they were in even deeper with their own Elves. One had a special door for their Elf to pass through each night, another sleeps in a little house made especially for him; and yet another has to write back to her daughter’s frequent questions in teeny-tiny Elf handwriting that she started from the beginning and is now getting hand cramps.
In a way I’m glad to hear I’m not alone, but at the same time, geez. What did I get myself into? For all you Elf Haters out there (let’s hope you haven’t gotten this far in this post): It’s still worth doing. And frankly, this is likely the last year. My 6-year-old son could care less about Max (I actually don’t think he believes; he’s made a few snide remarks already: Um, why does he have a tag?) But Madelyn will be 9 next year and even though she’s now a Believer it’s entirely possible the magic will fade by then (or she’ll still be up reading and catch me in the act). So like the many other mini milestones in our children’s lives, I’m trying to enjoy this one while it is still here.
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Tuesday, November 4th, 2014
I was at a Halloween party chatting with a neighbor. We were drinking blood red cocktails with plastic vampire teeth floating in them standing around a firepit making conversation. I knew she worked full-time but never knew what she did. Turns out she’s a forensic psychologist — she counsels criminals; and the way she talked about her work I could tell she loved it as much as I love mine as an editor here at Parents. Another neighborhood mom I’d never met before walked up. Somehow she steered the convo toward the rowing team that she belongs to. Every weekday after she drops the kids off at school, she told us, she’d meet up with this group of moms who row along the Long Island Sound. She asked me and my neighbor what ages our kids were; if they were school-age she ventured, we should come rowing too. It was a kind offer. But when we both replied we worked and couldn’t make a 9 a.m. row session we got “Oh that’s too bad” and that look. It’s the one that says You poor thing. You have to work. Eventually it got awkward and she moved on. My neighbor and I shared a knowing glance that we were being collectively pitied. Why is it that everyone assumes being a working mom sucks so much? Or does it suck that much and my friend and I are just in the blissful minority?
According to a recent survey from Care.com, the sitter-matching website we are. They asked working moms a bunch of questions about work-life balance. Based on this summary of the survey in their press release, we are one miserable bunch:
• One in four working moms say they cry alone at least once a week due to household-related stress and 29% won’t hire outside help because they feel guilty about not being able to do it all themselves.
· At least once a week, a third fight with their partner and kids.
· Working moms say they spend six hours alone with their partner each week, and one in four cancel activities for themselves on a weekly basis.
· Approximately one in ten (11 percent) say they’re afraid they’re not making lasting connections with their children thanks to their hectic schedules. More than half (52 percent) are afraid they’re missing out on being present in their family’s everyday lives.
Whoa. While it certainly isn’t easy to work full-time and raise kids (far from it), this is hard-core. Are working moms really this bugged out? (btw: Care.com defined “working mom” as any mother who was employed part-time or full-time which hello, covers a big chunk of our population.) Should we indeed be pitied? Should we quit our jobs and join the rowing team after all? (As if that were even an option!) Seriously, are my party friend and I the only ones out there loving this journey as crazy and f—-ed as it can be sometimes? Are we the only ones who love our jobs as much as we love our families? Please tell me it isn’t so. Please tell me that we’re not all about to put our heads in the oven.
There have to be moms out there who love their crazy busy work, crazy busy life, and crazy busy family. And if you’re one of them, please reach out — I’d love to share a blood red cocktail with you.
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Wednesday, October 15th, 2014
That’s the question I’ve been asking myself and likely you have too if you saw or watched the NBC News Report last week, which linked more than 30 cases of cancer among soccer players to the fact that they played on artificial turf. My kids are still in elementary school and don’t play on artificial turf very often now. But if they stick with soccer as I suspect that they will, they will be on it a lot. Perhaps several hours a day, several times a week. And my son — who I know will play some sort of field sport as a middle or high schooler — will play not just on my town’s turf, but on neighboring towns’ too, as artificial turf is becoming more and more popular across the country. And like the players in the NBC story, he will come home with the tire crumb in his uniform, in his hair, and even in his belly after ingesting it during a big play/tackle/save/what have you. And all I can think is, That’s it. He’s not playing any field sports!
Oh, I know that is not rational thinking. And I realize the many wonderful benefits there are to playing a sport. But as a mother, the stories of those goalies with cancer are just as compelling and frankly, they are so scary that I just couldn’t put it in the same bucket with all those other Many Things Out There We Parents Can’t Control. I kept coming back to this simple question: What if in 10 years my son is diagnosed with cancer and I KNEW this information and yet I did nothing? How could I live with myself?
To get some perspective, I went to an expert in pediatric environmental health: Joel Forman, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics and preventive medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC. He brought me off the ledge, a bit. He points out that we’ll never be able to prove that the goalies’ cancers were caused by the artificial turf. But we’ll also never be able to prove that they aren’t. “There are just so many gaps in the data as to what the long term affects might be,” he says. “We just don’t know. We’ll probably never know.” And it’s not just that we won’t know about cancer, he notes. We likely won’t ever know for sure if any of other multitude of chemicals in the turf cause any other problems in our kids, either.
Okay; not so reassuring. But as parents, we can be more aware. First of all, it’s important to know what type of artificial turf your child is playing on (or will play on in the future). The surface that is under scrutiny here is “tire crumb” or “crumb rubber”. It’s basically a surface that is made up of used tires with fake grass coming out of it. (The grass itself used to be made with lead — thankfully, that is no longer the case.) Tire Crumb is a popular choice in fields across the country because as you can imagine, there are a lot of old tires out there that could otherwise be taking up space in landfills. The trouble though, as Dr. Forman points out, You don’t know where those tires have been. “Think of all these tires running around on different vehicles collecting pollution, exhaust. The list of chemicals in those tires is just so long.” (You can see the list here collected by the EPA; some of which are known carcinogens and/or have been linked to cognitive delays or other problems in children.)
The best thing to do? Replace the crumb rubber with a substance we do know more about. Coconut husks. Cork. Sand. Even plastic. New York City uses a turf called SandFlex (the city banned crumb rubber infill in their fields in 2008.) And the NFL is using a substance called TPE (thermoplastic elastomer) which is basically plastic and new rubber (not recycled tires). While Dr. Forman points out that none of them have been studied either, this is what convinced me: “At least you know what you’re getting. You don’t have this long list of compounds like you do with used tires.”
Replacing the turf in your town or school’s field may not be easy to do. Especially if your town just built a gorgeous new field made with crumb rubber infill like a lot of communities have. But if they haven’t, suggest that they look at alternatives. And perhaps even if they have. After all, I would hate to have to look my son in the eye one day and say Yes, we knew about this. We all talked about it for days, weeks. It totally went viral back in the day. But we didn’t do anything about it.
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Monday, October 13th, 2014
We’ve covered charity birthday parties in the pages of Parents a lot. Moms seem to always be looking for ways to throw parties for their kids that will benefit others less fortunate whether it be roll-up-your-sleeve events that allow kids to do charity work at the actual shin-dig or ones that allow guests to donate to a cause in lieu of buying gifts. Perhaps it’s the extravagance of the modern kid’s birthday party that gives us this tug to give back — we all know what a first world problem it is to have to choose between the Ice Skating Princess party and the Make Cupcakes At the Local Bakery Party. And the fact that every kid comes home with a dozen new toys that she definitely doesn’t need (or sometimes even want). But trying to suggest that your kid donate those gifts is a hard sell. Last year I suggested that my daughter Madelyn, then 7, ask her friends to donate to a special cause instead of bringing gifts. She understood it was a nice thing to do. But she couldn’t give up the gifts.
So this year I tried a new tactic. Madelyn just got a puppy (see pic) for her birthday from a rescue organization. What if we asked your birthday guests to give a donation to FurBabies where we got Blue? As much as she loved the idea of giving to other puppies like her own, she was still hesitant. So I’d get no gifts? she asked. Well, you’d get gifts from Grannie and Grandpa … Hmm. She couldn’t pull the trigger. Then I learned of a website called Share Your Wish that allows her to do both: Get donations to charity AND get a gift of her own. It’s quite brilliant. I only wish that it allowed you to choose any charity. We couldn’t give to FurBabies but we could give to the ASPCA, the national animal non-profit that helps pets (and lots of other reputable non-profits). The site lets you choose what percentage to give to the charity and how much to go into the kid’s personal gift fund. Madelyn chose 75% to charity and 25% to herself. (The site also handles all the transactions which is handy.) Currently Madelyn has raised $156 for the ASPCA and $52 for herself (which she plans on spending on her puppy; Blue “needs” a sweater). It’s a win-win!
Except for the part that I still couldn’t get 4 out of 15 of the guests’ moms to RSVP. That will continue to be a first world problem that will never be solved.
Editor’s Note: I was wrong about Share Your Wish. You CAN choose your own charity. I just neglected to see the option the site. But a rep at the site tells me you just need to select “other” in the charity section. In the end, they were able to send Madelyn’s donation to FurBabies after all!
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Monday, September 22nd, 2014
In January of this year my daughter, Madelyn, asked if she could get a dog. We have one cat, Wriggler, that no one paid much attention to and was getting old. Why can’t she just love the cat more? My husband wanted to know. But Madelyn wouldn’t let up. Dog. Dog. Dog. That’s all she talked about. Finally I said if she could take care of the cat — feed her every day and help Dad clear out her box, she could get a dog for her 8th birthday. In October. 10 months away. And the rule was she couldn’t miss a feeding.
Welp. She surprised me and did just that. She fed the cat twice a day every day without fail. And a funny thing happened — she and Wriggler bonded like they hadn’t before. Instead of going to me or my husband, that cat snuggled up to Madelyn and started sleeping in her bed. Then this summer, just turning 12, Wriggler got sick. She wasn’t acting herself and soon she couldn’t keep down her food. It was sad to watch and especially sad for Madelyn who had suddenly gotten so close to her. Should I have encouraged this? Was I just setting her up for heartache? When Wriggler died Madelyn made a gravestone for her: “We love you!” she wrote and the whole family signed it. She loved that cat more in the last 6 months than she had in the last 6 years. She wept and wept. It was the first time (outside of the fish) she’d experienced true loss.
And then this weekend we picked up her puppy. Her birthday isn’t for another month, but we knew enough while searching for puppies on the rescue sites that you gotta jump when you find a good one. We brought her home. Madelyn named her Blue (she has one blue eye; one brown). She’s drinking out of the Wriggler’s bowl for now. The puppy’s not replacing Wriggler, but if it wasn’t for Wriggler, Madelyn wouldn’t have earned her. But it’s probably better that she missed Blue’s arrival. She probably would have given this adorable jumpy puppy a good swat!
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